Time and time again, research shows there are multiple different risk factors that result in a cow getting lame. From cow housing and bedding to manure management, nutrition, cow hygiene and trimming schedule, there are a lot of factors to consider.

Roche steven
ACER Consulting

This is why there’s so much focus on identifying lame cows. If we focus on identifying lameness early, then we can take action early and ensure mildly lame cows improve and return as productive members of the milking herd, and we can work backward to identify the specific issues causing lameness.

In previous Progressive Dairyman articles, we’ve focused on best practices for identifying lame cows in freestall and tiestall environments, and learned about addressing lameness on the farm from the veterinarian perspective. So, this time, we’re taking a look at lameness from another on-farm adviser’s perspective, the hoof trimmer.

I sat down with a Canadian hoof trimmer, Jamie Sullivan of Rippleview Hoof Care, Manitoba, to get his thoughts on the top five steps you should consider to lower the incidence of lameness in your herd.

1. Don’t accept that lame cows are normal

This may seem obvious, but in the industry today, it’s becoming “normal to have a few lame cows.” Our perspective, or frame of reference, is currently set to view this as “the norm,” which means we often don’t see this as a significant problem or priority.


This is a problem because it prevents us from addressing underlying issues causing lameness, and it’s a slippery slope downward to where the abnormal becomes normal. Sullivan says his best clients for low levels of lameness just plain don’t accept having a lame cow around.

It’s like the producers who focus on preventing mastitis at every turn; the end result is consistently low somatic cell counts. And just like udder infections, lame cows are bound to happen, but it’s about having action plans in place to enable you and your staff to make immediate and effective decisions about how to address the issue.

2. We need to tackle infectious lesions first

With digital dermatitis accounting for more than 40 percent of the industry’s lameness, Sullivan says it’s the obvious place to start. Especially because on trim day, your trimmer can do little to help control digital dermatitis besides how they model the foot. Sullivan also emphasizes to clients that herds with high levels of digital dermatitis have an increased likelihood of having other lesions because of changes to the cow’s feet and legs and behavior.

More specifically, these occur due to weight transfer, gait change, increased heel growth (causing change in claw conformation) and changes in lying and eating behavior. At the end of the day, we need to train staff on proper identification of different infectious lesions and have early detection and treatment protocols in place.

Most importantly, these need to be in place for footbath prevention efforts to be successful.

3. Records, records and more records

Our recommendations to this point have focused on establishing proper protocols and action plans to detect and address problems early. However, as Sullivan says, you need to know where your actual problems are to develop effective protocols to prevent and improve, and this starts with keeping accurate and up-to-date records.

He suggests there’s a good chance your trimmer has some sort of computer program to record lesions or have trim day data entered into a farm program, such as DairyComp 305.

Use these to inform your protocols. For example, a herd with a sole ulcer issue will have different places to look for solutions (standing time, stall comfort, etc.) than having white-line disease issues, which are a trauma issue (floors and cattle handling), or infectious lesions, which are a hygiene issue.

Records are also crucial for tracking trends so you can identify potential problems before they become serious issues. For example, Sullivan says sole hemorrhage and white-line hemorrhages are just early stages to ulcers and white-line disease, and an increase on trim day should sound alarm bells.

It’s great to keep track of these issues, and with computers, phones, tablets and apps, it’s become easier than ever. But we must use this information and take action for it to be effective and worthwhile.

4. Be ready for trim day

As a busy trimmer, this shouldn’t be a surprise as an important one for Sullivan. Being ready for trim day goes beyond just having a proper place for the trimmer and having cows waiting in a holding pen. He wants the majority of cows on the trim list to be for prevention purposes.

That is, cows going dry and mid-lactation or 80 to 100 days in milk. Sullivan says the frequency of prevention trims beyond that will be herd-specific, depending on lack of or excessive wear, from the farm environment. A discussion with your trimmer about the frequency of preventative trims should be in order.

If the majority of your list is just lame cows and long toes (corrective actions), then it’s going to be difficult to improve cow welfare and farm profitability in the long run. Talk to your trimmer about how you can work together for improvement.

5. Team adviser meetings

Sullivan is a big proponent of team adviser meetings. He’d like to see all farm advisers (veterinarian, trimmer, nutritionist, etc.) having at least one sit-down meeting together with the producer and key farm employees. The benefit of getting everyone on the same page and working toward the same goals is invaluable. If not, each adviser may be pulling in a different direction and, in the end, very little gets achieved.

This is where good computer records and routine communication become important; these tools provide you and your advisers with a quick picture of where farm hoof health is at. They can also be used to measure success or shortfalls in current protocols.

At the end of the day, it’s important your farm team (including advisers) are clear on your hoof health goals and action plans and their role in achieving them. 

Well, there you have it. Five key steps toward lameness improvement, from a trimmer’s perspective. Remember, talk to your own trimmer, staff and other advisers to come up with a plan tailored to your farm and hoof health goals.

Focus on setting goals, taking action, reflecting on what’s working, and readjusting as necessary. Taking these steps can help you reduce lameness, improve hoof health and animal care, and your farm’s profitability.